Of all the automotive segments, picking a top truck has to be the toughest job of all. One buyer may need a workhorse, while another might use it as a daily commuter. We had to consider this when we voted on our winner, selecting the truck that would best suit a wide variety of needs and do it well.
All of the contenders were worthy, but ultimately, our experts voted the Chevrolet Colorado / GMC Canyon as the Best Mid-Size Truck in the 2021 autoTRADER.ca Awards. They’re from two different brands, but they’re mechanical twins with styling differences, so we bundled them together (but tend to think the Canyon is the better-looking of the pair).
Our team of more than 20 automotive experts looked extensively at every truck in this segment, judging them on a wide range of factors including price, performance, standout features, technology, and more. The jury voted for the Colorado/Canyon as the winner over the finalists, Ford Ranger, Honda Ridgeline, Toyota Tacoma, and last year’s winner, the Jeep Gladiator.
Our experts like how much choice is available with the GM trims. It comes in an Extended Cab with 6-foot-1 bed; Crew Cab with 5-foot-1 bed; and Crew Cab with 6-foot-1 bed. All are available in rear-wheel or four-wheel drive. In some cases, the trim level dictates the configuration and driveline, but we like that there’s a fairly wide range to cover various buyers’ requirements.
These trucks are intelligently priced, too, with stickers starting at $27,598 for the Colorado and $28,298 for the Canyon – because while they are mechanically identical, they’re equipped a bit differently to make the GMC the more upscale of the two. Moving up to Crew Cab 4x4, by far the more popular choice among Canadian buyers, the Colorado starts at $34,598. By comparison, with four full doors and four-wheel drive, it’ll cost at least $38,990 to get into a Tacoma, around $37,500 for a Ranger, and the Gladiator and Ridgeline both start above $42,000.
We took into account that those last two contain far more features than the base GM trucks for that starting price, and you can certainly get a Colorado or Canyon above $50,000, depending on the trim and how many options you add. But not everyone needs a truck to be fully kitted, and we like that the Colorado provides a base “Work Truck” model for those who just want a simple and relatively inexpensive vehicle, and for that $34,598, the truck comes with a V6 and can tow up to 7,000 lb. At the other end of the scale, the GMC version culminates in the Denali trim, and while it isn’t quite as luxurious-looking inside as the full-size Sierra Denali is, it includes such features as heated and ventilated seats, 20-inch wheels, and Bose premium audio.
The Tacoma comes with a 3.5L V6; the Ridgeline with a 3.5L V6; and the Ranger uses a turbocharged EcoBoost 2.3L four-cylinder. The Gladiator starts with a 3.6L V6, and new for 2021, offers a 3.0L V6 turbodiesel. But the Colorado/Canyon is the choice-meister of the group, with three engines on tap. It starts with a 2.5L four-cylinder making 200 horsepower and 191 lb-ft of torque with a six-speed automatic transmission. Next is a 3.6L V6 with 308 horsepower and 373 lb-ft of torque mated to an eight-speed automatic, and then a 2.8L four-cylinder turbodiesel, making 186 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque with a six-speed automatic. Choose the diesel, and its Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) combined rating of 10.6 L/100 km is the most fuel-efficient of any of our finalists; it also has the highest towing capacity of 7,700 lb. The Ford Ranger comes close, at 10.9 L/100 km for its turbocharged four-cylinder, and its towing capacity of 7,500 lb. That’s very impressive, of course, especially given that the Ranger’s top towing is 500 lb more than you get with the Colorado’s V6 – one of the many reasons why it can be so tough to pick an ultimate champion.
All of our contenders have proven themselves when taken off the pavement – including the Ridgeline, which uniquely uses an SUV-style all-wheel-drive system rather than four-wheel drive – and, of course, off-road is the Gladiator’s reason for being. But the Colorado can be optioned up to the ZR2, and we’ve confidently matched it with the Jeep truck in the past. autoTRADER.ca contributor Sami Haj-Assaad took both trucks out and gave the nod to GM, giving it higher marks for its engine, its driving feel, and its value, and called it “a focussed vehicle that nails the basics and then a bit more too.”
Our Road Test Editor Dan Ilika drove the Colorado Z71, which he described as rugged but still a “practical pickup,” with “high bedsides and enough width between the wheel tubs to stash a sheet of plywood.” Like the full-size Silverado, the Colorado has brilliantly simple steps in its bumper, making it easier to climb up and access the bed. Dan also liked the easy-to-use controls, which are toggle switches and chunky knobs, and the eight-inch touchscreen is “crisp and responsive, while the interface is underrated for its simplicity and stylish graphics.”
Overall, he praised the Colorado’s “fair price and fantastic usability,” and that’s exactly what buyers are looking for in the mid-size truck segment. All of our contenders have what it takes, but going above and beyond put the Colorado/Canyon at the top of our list.